Election reflections

Understanding why we voted on so many amendments this time around

The well-funded campaign to sow concern about messing with our state Constitution apparently had the desired effect. All five proposed amendments that made it before voters went down in flames on Election Day, by nearly identical margins. 

In general, 60 percent of the state's voters decided to pencil in "no" on their ballots when it came to deciding each of the proposed amendments.

In terms of Proposal 3 especially — which sought to have the state commit to obtaining 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by the year 2025 — some were asking afterward why proponents didn't seek a referendum instead.

Doing so would have taken away the claim from opponents — that is to say the state's big utilities, Detroit Edison and Consumers — that the state Constitution is no place to enshrine energy policy.

On the surface, that might appear reasonable.

But one thing we've learned over the years, things are seldom as simple as they might appear. This issue is a perfect illustration.

When debate arose in a sort of election post-mortem on a listserv that deals with Michigan environmental issues, Anne Woiwode, director of the state chapter of the Sierra Club, made it abundantly clear why a coalition of environmentalists felt compelled to take the tack they did.

"The constitutional route was taken because even if the voters adopted a legislative initiative overwhelmingly, it only takes a two-thirds majority of the Legislature to overturn it," Woiwode explained "During the 2008 legislative effort that resulted in the current standard (and gave the utilities a lot of things they wanted) there was reportedly one utility lobbyist per legislator in the capitol during the course of the legislation. The right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council just announced that it will be gearing up campaigns in legislatures to overturn Renewable Portfolio Standards. By putting this into the Constitution it would have set fundamental policy, the Constitution is supposed to, and put sidebars on the ability of the Legislature and governor to simply ignore the people's will on this."

She went on to point out how much special interest money went in to defeating the proposal. According to currently available campaign reports — which do not cover spending immediately before the election — the greens were outspent by a margin of nearly 2-to-1.

Given the amount of anti-Prop 3 advertising that flooded the airwaves before Election Day, and taking into account the campaign to have people vote "no" on all the proposed amendments, its possible that the ratio will end up being much higher.

"But even in that morass," wrote Woiwode, "the utilities couldn't attack renewables and they never engaged on the health protection that clean energy brings. The effort is not only far from over, it will be continuing virtually uninterrupted. Thanks to those of you who worked to pass Proposal 3, and stay engaged because this fight is just beginning!"

We hope she's right. 

News Hits is written by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]